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Pensioner doing without

Featherston pensioner Leslye Thompson with her cat Sam-the-Man. PHOTO/SUE TEODORO

SUE TEODORO
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A South Wairarapa pensioner is struggling to make ends meet as South Wairarapa District Council rate hikes hit the district’s most vulnerable the hardest.

Pensioner Leslye Thompson moved to Featherston more than 23 years ago, believing she could have a modest but more affordable retirement in Wairarapa.

Older, partially deaf, and with health issues, Thompson juggles power, telephone and insurance costs with an annual rates bill of almost $4000 a year. She wrote to the council last month saying the rates were unaffordable and services inadequate.

“I am a pensioner on the government superannuation. Once tax is taken, then the $4000 council think I am worthy of paying them in rates is driving me insane. It will probably end up with me not being able to feed myself,” she said in the letter.

A keen gardener, Thompson bought her compact home and well-tended garden on a back section when rates were about $500 a year. This year’s 29 per cent rates hike has taken her quarterly bill to well over $900, and she is reviewing her small budget. Her only income is her pension.

Even her simple pleasures, like her garden and pets, are under the financial microscope.

She said she would do without essentials for herself before giving up her beloved cats.

“This is too much, asking people to pay this amount of rates,” she said.

Thompson said services provided were limited, with drains blocked and footpaths often fouled and broken.

“You never see council workers,” she said.

She has had to make significant spending cuts but is determined to keep her pets.

“I’m doing without meat and plants for my garden,” she said.

“I wouldn’t give my cats away. I’d rather go without myself.”

Thompson has no car, no luxuries and seldom eats out.

She is a keen gardener and loves buying plants, but this year can’t afford even that.

“This lovely garden book came, and I marked some and I can’t buy them,” she said, pointing to a plants catalogue.

The plants were just over $200, but the cash is needed to pay the rates.

The Times-Age contacted the council, who said they had a range of support tools available and strongly encouraged people who were struggling to get in touch urgently so they could
offer practical help.

“We can only help those who let us know they need help,” they said.

Thompson said people were selling and moving away because of the rising rates. She said the impact on the community had been hard.

She was afraid she would have to dip into her emergency funds and was worried about the future.

“I have savings which I don’t want to touch.

“In my head, I’ve thought what am I going to do. How am I going to leave here? But where do you go?” she said.

A council spokesperson said the rates as set were valid and payable but acknowledged some would have difficulty.

“We recognise that this year’s rates have been more than we had communicated during the LTP consultation process. We also recognise there are some in our community who are
unable to afford it.”

The spokesperson said this was why they had consistently asked ratepayers struggling to pay or with queries or concerns to get in touch at an early stage.

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